FLASHBACK: Taliban Says It's Suspending Prisoner-Swap Talks, Which WH Says Aren’t Happening

February 24, 2014 - 5:12 AM

taliban

Taliban fighters pose with an RPG in Afghanistan’s Zabul province. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan, File)

(Note: This report was first published in February 2014.)

(CNSNews.com) – An announcement by the Taliban Sunday saying it was suspending talks with the U.S. over a possible prisoner exchange came five days after the White House denied that “active negotiations” were taking place.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that secret talks over a prisoner swap have been underway in the United Arab Emirates.

He claimed that progress had been made – including the Taliban’s release of a video providing the U.S. with evidence that captured U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is still alive – but that the group has decided to suspend the initiative due to the “current complexity of the political situation in Afghanistan.”

“The process will remain suspended without the exchange of the prisoners until our decision to resume.”

Bergdahl, 27, from Hailey, Idaho, was captured in Afghanistan in mid-2009, and is believed to be in the hands of the Haqqani network, a terrorist group affiliated to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

After the Washington Post reported last week that the administration has decided to try to resume long-stalled talks over a prisoner exchange, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the U.S. was “not … involved in active negotiations with the Taliban” in a bid to secure Bergdahl’s freedom.

Carney said that should talks with the Taliban resume, “then we will want to talk with the Taliban about the safe return of Sergeant Bergdahl.”

He added that the U.S. was working daily to see the captured soldier returned home safely, “using our military, our intelligence and our diplomatic tools.”

The Taliban wants five senior prisoners currently held at Guantanamo Bay freed in exchange for Bergdahl. Four of the five who have been named all had links to al-Qaeda before they were captured.

Arguably the most controversial of them is former Taliban military chief Mohammed Fazl, who is accused of responsibility for the slaughter of large numbers of minority Shi’ites during the period when the Taliban ruled over most of Afghanistan, from the mid-1990s until October 2001.

The others are former Taliban deputy intelligence minister Abdul Haq Wasiq; former Taliban governor and military commander Norullah Noori; former Taliban governor of Herat province Khairullah Khairkhwa; and Mohammed Nabi, who held various Taliban posts, including that of chief of security in Qalat, capital of the southern province of Zabul.

The Washington Post report, citing “current and former officials” said the administration had decided to sweeten an earlier offer by agreeing to a simultaneous rather than staggered release of the five Taliban detainees, in exchange for Bergdahl.

It said the five Guantanamo detainees would be released into the “protective custody” of Qatar. The small Gulf state has played a mediating role in past exchanges between the U.S. and Taliban representatives, and allowed the group to open a political office in Doha last June.

The Obama administration’s stated position on reconciliation with militants in Afghanistan is that Taliban leaders pledge to stop fighting, end support for al-Qaeda, and abide by the Afghan constitution, including the constitutional guarantees of rights for women.

Based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district but operating on both sides of the border, the Haqqani network has been in existence for longer than both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, although the U.S. government only designated it as a foreign terrorist organization in September 2012 – and only then after congressional pressure and a legislative deadline.

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commanders in Afghanistan have described it as one of the most formidable foes faced by the coalition and Afghan national forces.

The Haqqani network has long enjoyed close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and regional security experts expect it to have an ongoing role in Afghanistan after the ISAF mission is completed at the end of this year.